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THE developer of a £50million leisure complex on Southend seafront may not be able to move ahead with the project due to Covid-19 wreaking havoc on the leisure industry, a councillor has warned.
Turnstone Estates has been battling to get planning permission to redevelop the Seaway car park off Lucy Road for more than a year and has now been successful after it lodged an appeal with the Government.
The planning consent means the company can move forward with the project which will include an 11-screen Empire Cinema complex with IMAX, 80-room Travelodge Hotel, a 20 lane Hollywood Bowl and a range of other leisure and restaurant offerings.
But Conservative councillors, who have raised a number of concerns about the project in the past, believe the developer will struggle to get it off the ground in light of the difficulties faced by the leisure industry.
Councillor Kevin Buck highlights the promise of a cinema as a particular concern.
He said: “They will need to consider the viability of this scheme in the current climate given that restaurant chains are closing by the dozen and cinemas are reviewing their own viability for the next 12 to 24 months.
“I expect what we may see is rather than Turnstone developing the site, they could look at selling the site with planning consent, which could be more advantageous to them.”
Mr Buck also said he was disappointed the developer had been unwilling to engage with the council directly over parking concerns.
Under Turnstone’s plan, the number of spaces on the site will be slashed from 661 to 555, a move which some fear will have a major impact on seafront businesses as it could leave visitors with nowhere to park.
Mr Buck accused the developer of being “absent” throughout the planning process and failing to engage with the council or its officers.
He added: “What we’ve had is a developer divorced from the borough wanting to get a planning application though whether or not it has been viable in the town and they have not engaged with officers or councillors in any meaningful way.”
In response to the councillors’ comments, Tim Deacon, director of Turnstone Estates promised the leisure centre will bring a range of benefits to the community, including an £15million a year into the local community and hundreds of new jobs.
The council’s Independent deputy leader, councillor Ron Woodley, insisted that parking would not be a problem due to the council’s plans to expand the nearby Gasworks Car Park and to build a multi-storey car park on Tylers Avenue.
He further defended the viability of the project, claiming it will likely not be finished until after the pandemic is over and by then it would be a “great time” to open new leisure facilities.
Despite the concerns, the CEO of Empire Cinemas, Justine Ribbons, insisted the company is committed to the project.